When it comes to Hollywood, perhaps the chief element to keep in mind is that almost everything having to do with and everyone surrounding it, is an illusion.
The grand façade of Tinseltown presents a blossoming, spectacular land where dreams come true. And in some rare occasions, it can indeed be such. But the seedy underbelly of the grand motion picture industry presents a very different reality of greedy, selfish, depraved people, who have lost touch with any kind of balance in life or moral compass. These are the ilk of which Map to the Stars presents, and a bleak picture it is indeed.
Directed by David Cronenberg, Map to the Stars depicts a series of intertwined lives in an intricately detailed yet quick manner. Extremely well cast, Conenberg has drawn out of the actors very nuanced performances that piece together a stark reality, from which most intriguingly, one cannot look away.
A therapist of a sort, Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack, looking a far cry from his dashing Say Anything self, as time has ravaged him), and his wife Christina Weiss (Olivia Williams) are as wealthy as wealthy can be, since their son, Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) is a 13-year-old child actor, having starred in several multimillion-dollar grossing films. Immediately upon being introduced in the film, it’s clear that the fast living and extreme wealth about to be presented is a far cry from what many people in the world know to be anything close to “normal,” and Benjie Weiss is not anyone who could be called an ordinary kid.
At thirteen, Benjie is all but washed up. He’s undergone a heavy drug addiction and is currently in recovery, shown drinking energy drinks (in lieu of alcohol or taking drugs), in nearly every shot of the movie. He attends parties at grand mansions, and his conversations with children around his age are frankly disgusting to listen to. These people are impossibly rich. All they’ve ever known in their brief lives is such outrageous wealth that their sense of reality is entirely askew. Nothing and no one is sacred. It’s apparent in their speech, their demeanor, and their treatment of anyone they deem “lesser than,” which is essentially everyone save their very own selves. They’re perfectly groomed and manicured, defying the truth that their inner selves could not be revealed to be more loathsome.
A patient of Dr. Weiss’s, Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore, demonstrating in the role that she fully deserves this past year’s Oscar win, and should have been nominated for this performance as well), is a movie star as well, some years later into her career. She works through some of the inner demons she battles with the spirit of her deceased mother through a strange variety of talk/work-out therapy with Dr. Weiss. And she’s planning to make a star turn in a remake of a movie her mother had made (who was also an actress), back several years ago. Segrand is astute, and she clearly has worked hard to reach her level of fame, but it’s apparent as well that she is slightly unhinged. When things bother her, she is quick to anger. She cares little for the welfare of others, as she is more concerned with whichever steps along her path that will bolster her career and waning—as she sees it—stardom that age seems to have wrought upon her. She’s ruthless, yet absorbed in the superficiality of wealth (such as private yoga lessons in her gorgeous mansion and various health cleanses), as if any of it could help with the serious mental issues she needs to work through on a far more selfless level than she seems capable of achieving, given her circumstances and relationship to wealth and fame.
Showing up in the film in a fantastically enigmatic manner is Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska, in an equally award-worthy turn, which keeps pace with Moore’s acting chops well), the apparently long-lost daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Weiss. She was banished for what are at first mysterious means, and had been living for a few years in a mental institution in Florida (the reasons for which are revealed as the plot drives on, and shall not be spoiled herein). Agatha is cunning, goofy, and wise; her sickening actions are erratic and frightening—as her taxi-driver-turned-temporary-love-interest Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson) quickly finds out. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and her family, who have all but disowned her, are more than aware of her danger. As the story unfolds, the audience soon become privvy as well, and a pretty scene she doth not paint in her wake of destruction on the way to the top.
The story winds its way oddly through these people’s lives, and yet, it makes more coherent sense than it would at first appear to do. It certainly doesn’t wrap things in a bow, yet it neatly fits each segment into one another. And it ends revealing details about their depravity that one nearly wishes to have not discovered. It’s a powerful piece of oftentimes sickeningly twisted storytelling, and Cronenberg knows it. The fate of these characters is one map one would not wish to follow, but the intrigue in seeing others trod along it is rapturously fascinating.
4 out of 5 stars.